“You may speak as you will of me,” said she. “To me it is no more than the foolish paroquet that chatters in your ante-room. But do not touch upon things which are sacred. Ah, if you would but raise your own thoughts to such things—if you would but turn them inwards, and see, before it is too late, how vile and foul is this life which you have led! What might you not have done? His soul was in your hands like clay for the potter. If you had raised him up, if you had led him on the higher path, if you had brought out all that was noble and good within him, how your name would have been loved and blessed, from the chateau to the cottage! But no; you dragged him down; you wasted his youth; you drew him from his wife; you marred his manhood. A crime in one so high begets a thousand others in those who look to him for an example; and all, all are upon your soul. Take heed, madame, for God’s sake take heed ere it be too late! For all your beauty, there can be for you, as for me, a few short years of life. Then, when that brown hair is white, when that white cheek is sunken, when that bright eye is dimmed—ah, then God pity the sin-stained soul of Francoise de Montespan!”
Her rival had sunk her head for the moment before the solemn words and the beautiful eyes. For an instant she stood silent, cowed for the first time in all her life; but then the mocking, defiant spirit came back to her, and she glanced up with a curling lip.
“I am already provided with a spiritual director, thank you,” said she. “Oh, madame, you must not think to throw dust in my eyes! I know you, and know you well!”
“On the contrary, you seem to know less than I had expected. If you know me so well, pray what am I?”
All her rival’s bitterness and hatred rang in the tones of her answer. “You are,” said she, “the governess of my children, and the secret mistress of the king.”
“You are mistaken,” answered Madame de Maintenon serenely. “I am the governess of your children, and I am the king’s wife.”
THE MAN IN THE CALECHE.
Often had De Montespan feigned a faint in the days when she wished to disarm the anger of the king. So she had drawn his arms round her, and won the pity which is the twin sister of love. But now she knew what it was to have the senses struck out of her by a word. She could not doubt the truth of what she heard. There was that in her rival’s face, in her steady eye, in her quiet voice, which carried absolute conviction with it. She stood stunned for an instant, panting, her outstretched hands feeling at the air, her defiant eyes dulling and glazing. Then, with a short sharp cry, the wail of one who has fought hard and yet knows that she can fight no more, her proud head drooped, and she fell forward senseless at the feet of her rival. Madame de Maintenon stooped and raised her up in her strong